Not so long ago, in a country not so far away, there was a boy who dreamed of being a Jedi Knight. That boy was me. And though I never got the chance to become a Jedi Knight, my dream is a little closer to reality thanks to Singapore-based company Sabermach.
I picked up one of the six lightsabers, admiring the weight of its hilt in my hand and striking my best Form II pose as I hit the power switch. It sparked to life with a snap-hiss and a blue glow, emitting a hum that subtly changed depending on the way I swung the weapon.
For years I've heard how fragile official Master Replica Force FX lightsabers can be, and so I expected that the lightsaber in my hand would easily break -- but this wasn't the case. Sabermach's original designs were built for fencing. To prove this, founder Jay Chen lifted his lightsaber and brought it crashing down on the one I was holding.
"Don't worry about it breaking," he said with a chuckle. "It's designed for heavy-duty use. Even kendo users found it pretty sturdy."
I was worried, though, since I didn't want bits and pieces of a broken blade flying at my face. But the plastic easily held up under the abuse. Sabermach's smiths use a special threaded design that's about 1 inch wide to securely attach the 29-inch plastic tube that serves as the blade of the lightsaber.
These blades strike a good balance. They're sturdy enough to take a pounding, but not so heavy or sharp that you have to worry about getting your hand sliced off, Luke Skywalker style, at the event of a duel.
"Unlike the sabers from the US, which are too thick, our products are sized for Asian hands," said Chen. "Our sabers are practical designs you can fight with, and have no unnecessary protrusions. You'll realise that any of the lightsabers that you hold in your hands feel comfortable."
And indeed, they did feel very secure and comfortable to hold. Whether I held the lightsaber in one hand or with two, like they do the movies, it didn't feel like it was going to slip away if I did a quick twirl or flourished with it, like the wannabe Jedi I am.
Passion and heart
For 31-year-old Chen, attention to detail and a passion for crafting his own lightsaber were the reasons why he now has a startup selling what he calls "custom illuminated sabers." Sabermach doesn't license the official lightsabers from the Star Wars films, and instead uses six original designs for its blades. It also has a prototype design resembling the "Force Awakens" villain Kylo Ren's crossguard lightsaber.
By treading the fine line between licensing, Sabermach is able to offer Star Wars fans a way to make their Jedi Knight dreams come true without having to worry about the Disney empire striking back with copyright claims.
"I think at the end of the day, it's really how we market it. I don't think whatever Disney is offering right now is usable for fencing, while ours are," said Chen.
Chen isn't doing this all alone. He found a kindred soul in Kit Woo, who joined Sabermach as Creative Director. Kit previously sold custom-made lightsabers under his own branding, Kit Sabers, but decided to hop on board with Chen.
"I built sabers part time after office hours, though I started out late in building sabers, in my 30s," said Kit. "I built them out of PVC [polyvinyl chloride] parts with a saw and other tools. I learnt the basics of how to build lightsabers, and this took me a few years to finally start on metal builds."
Kit's also an active member of local saber fencing club, Fightsaber. Established in 2010, the group brings costumed fighting action from the movies to real life performance and currently has five chapters in Southeast Asia.
Blades of light
Just as a Jedi Knight constructs his or her own lightsaber by hand, each Sabermach saber is hand-crafted from an anodized aluminum tube at Sabermach's factory in Singapore. The most complicated model is made from over 20 separate parts.
The saber is designed in Google Sketchup before it's built. No special crystals are required, as the lightsabers are lit up with super bright LEDs. And, of course, there's no need for the Sabermech smiths to use the Force to align the internal components.
Each design uses a semi-modular setup that's designed to allow for future mass production. Sabermach takes care to ensure that each finished product comes out smooth, with no annoying burrs that may affect the way you hold the hilt.
There are a total of six different designs, with names ranging from Conquistador to the Black Vantage, each with three different levels of effects and a display case. The basic Adept line costs S$449 (which roughly converts to $320, £210 or AU$440) but doesn't have any sound effects. The Expert line costs S$649 (which converts to $460, £310or AU$640) and features a light-up sound effect, three different blade colors and in-hilt charging (you don't have to remove the battery pack to charge).
For the serious lightsaber fanatics, though, the Master series, at S$849 (converting to $600, £400 or AU$840), comes not only with a light up sound, but clashing effects -- the lightsaber flashes when it hits another -- and the ability to toggle blaster deflection sound effects. The Master blades also offer six different blade colours, letting you choose the color that best reflects your Force.
Sabermach has also spent time perfecting the balance of the blades. Unlike the lightsabers in the movies, these real-life sabers have to be balanced around an actual blade, which itself needs to be able to withstand attacks. To ensure that the sabers are up to spec, Sabermach based the blade length and weight on Japanese swords -- specifically a Musashi katana.
This really impressed me. I used to do a bit of kendo, and the balance of Sabermach's lightsabers felt great. While the weight is focused mostly towards the bottom of the hilt, the balance point is somewhere near the top, letting you easily control the momentum of a swing. There's also no rattling from internal components such as the speakers, as those parts are securely fastened.
If you loved Darth Maul's dual-bladed lightsaber from Episode I, The Phantom Menance, Sabermach gives you the option to join two lightsabers together by unscrewing the bottom cover and using a special connector to link both hilts.
For now, Sabermach is still figuring out how to break into the international market. It's currently testing its products for Singapore, and has plans to sell its lightsabers to places like the US. It's currently setting up a website and will offer a 90-day warranty. This should reassure those who are intrigued but dubious of the prospect of a real-life lightsaber.
While fighting lightsabers can be a niche market, Sabermach is confident it'll be making a profit by the end of the next year, and won't just be targeting the local customers in Singapore. It has ambitious plans to get its sabers sold overseas, and intends to sell them in bulk quantities once it begins mass production.
"Right now, so far, we have produced quite a few sabers, out of which, we've given most of them out as samples display pieces and promotional items," said Chen.
"To date, we have sold some of these sabers, but we still have lots of stocks left. Now, we make money per piece, and we're definitely confident of growing as a business."